TELFORD VICE in London
TERRORISM doesn’t work. Proof of that was seen on the streets of London on Saturday night in the eight mad minutes after a van drove into pedestrians on a bridge and three men embarked on a stabbing spree in nearby bars and restaurants, killing seven – apparently in the name of Allah – before police shot them to death.
At a pedestrian crossing leading from Vauxhall tube station to the bridge of the same name arching gently over the Thames, amid the flashing blue lights, acidic atmosphere and faces stained by panic and worry, were two other faces.
All that could be seen of them was their eyes, which betrayed the same stains as everyone else’s.
They wore hijab.
Behind their veils they spoke the same taut sentences to each other as the people all around them.
“What really happened?”
“Who would do something like this?”
“What are we going to do?”
“Are our friends safe?”
“How are we going to get home?”
No-one asked them why yet another murderous attack on innocent civilians appeared to have been perpetrated, yet again, in the name of Islam.
No-one berated them for sharing the faith of the murderers.
No-one told them to go back to where they came from.
No-one looked at them in a way that suggested they were wondering whether they were planning something similar or were part of the same plot.
No-one looked at them more than they looked at anyone else, in fact. All were searching for the comfort of the ordinary in the tumult of the extraordinary.
And in the here and now of that moment the futility of terrorism stood in stark relief from the chaos.
If the point of the attack was to turn more Muslims against others, it had failed. If the point was to provoke attacks on other Muslims, it had also failed.
Two Muslim women were as much emotional victims and physical survivors as the rest of us. We were in this together, and neither cultural nor religious differences could disrupt that bond; your gods or theirs, or none. The terrorist attack, which surely had sought to divide us, had united us.
But, by Sunday morning, cracks in that togetherness were snaking through the city.
“They should arrest the relatives of the people involved – mothers, fathers, uncles, grandmothers, everybody – and take their citizenship away and send them back to the countries they came from, or that their families came from,” a taxi driver said.
“They come here, they get jobs, they use the benefits of being here. And then they do this.
“I know it’s not politically correct, but that’s what must happen. They must be forced out.”
He took a breath, mindful perhaps of his blood pressure.
“I’d be a hard prime minister; I’d be like Donald Trump,” he said. “Actually, that’s not true: he’s racist.”
He sounded like the kind of podgy white bloke in his 50s who sees cultural and religious differences as inviolable obstacles to integration.
He was indeed podgy and in his 50s. But he was also an Arab from “the Middle East” who is “married to a white Welsh woman who has given me two wonderful sons”.
One of them is a member of the United Kingdom’s unarmed police.
“I want him to carry a sidearm, so that when someone comes at him with a knife he can empty a magazine on them.”
In a Marylebone cafe, a woman told of her and her partner’s experience the night before.
“We were right there, at London Bridge, in a pub, watching the football,” she said.
“Which was why it happened when it did – they knew a lot of people would be coming out of the pubs after the football.
“We snuck away just before the attack because we had to work at 7am this morning.
“I can’t say why but that makes me feel almost guilty …”
The terrorists struck soon after Real Madrid beat Juventus 4-1 in the Champions League final in Cardiff.
Part of the sizable contingent of South Africans who had earlier on Saturday cheered AB de Villiers and his team to victory over Sri Lanka at The Oval had holed up a few hundred metres down the road in a pub, The Beehive, to celebrate and watch the football.
Warmed by enough beer and wine, they were in good spirits by the time the pub’s televisions broke the awfulness of what had happened around a bend in the Thames and less than five kilometres away.
Soon ever more frequent flashes of blue light and the wail of sirens were invading the space.
The bonhomie seeped out and was replaced by an unwanted but not unthinkable reality: had not the monsters come out from under the bed in Manchester just two weeks previously?
Plans to try and avoid the congestion that awaited were shared, and goodbyes said more fondly than usual and with looks of concern.
The door was opened to allow the flashing lights and sirens full access to the once happy place, and furtive steps were taken onto suddenly unsafe streets.
Then the truth emerged in the shrouded shape of people who others want to cast, and be cast, as enemies.
We could see ourselves in their eyes, and we knew that terrorism doesn’t work.